The Many Choices of Female Contraception
Although most of us are aware of the male options for contraception and disease protection, there are far more female contraception options available which should be considered, too. Contrary to what many believe, birth control pills and tubal ligation are not the only measures that a woman can take to prevent pregnancy. There are three main forms of female birth control, which are hormonal, barrier, and sterilization. We are going to take a look at which options are available under each division and how each one works.
Hormonal contraception is one of the most commonly used forms of birth control and is highly effective at preventing pregnancy. Examples of this form of contraception include oral contraceptives, skin patches, injections, and, in some cases, intrauterine devices. Oral contraceptives, also known as birth control pills, have been a reliable source of contraceptive which relies on the use of hormones to regulate a woman’s cycle. Oral contraceptives contain some form of progesterone. The synthetic kind is referred to as progestogen. Other pills may contain progestin, which basically means any other hormone which produces the same effects that progesterone has. Progesterone and progestin prevents the luteinizing hormone from being released, which then results in the failure to ovulate. Estrogen may also be found in some oral contraceptives, although progesterone-only pills are quite effective on their own.
Skin patches use the same estrogen-progestin combination that oral contraceptives use, however most skin patches use a higher amount of estrogen. The patch can be placed on the lower portion of the stomach, buttocks, or arm where it will remain for a week. A new patch should be used every week except for the fourth week, in which no patch is used so that menstruation can occur. The failure rate for the skin patch is about the same as using an oral contraceptive, which is between 0.1 – 0.6 percent. Injections can also be used as a form of birth control. The progestin hormone is injected into the arm or buttock by a doctor. The hormone slowly, but constantly, releases into the blood over the course of three months. After this time, a new injection must be given in order for this preventative measure to be effective.
Intrauterine devices, also known as IUD’s, are extremely effective and are rising in popularity. An IUD is a “T” shaped bit of plastic that is inserted into the womb by a doctor. The plastic device can use two methods of prevention: copper or progestin. Copper is like poison to sperm and will prevent fertilization by preventing the sperm from fertilizing the egg. Progestin works by preventing ovulation. The T-shaped device also disrupts the uterine setting, making implantation much more difficult. This form of female contraception is nearly as effective as one can get without involving surgery and it is highly recommended by doctors.
Barrier methods include the female condom, diaphragm, and sponge. The female condom isn’t as popular as the diaphragm and the sponge, however it does have the added bonus of helping to protect women against sexually transmitted diseases. The female condom is a little polyurethane pouch that measures about six inches long and about three inches wide. A flexible circular portion at the top is used to insert the condom into the vagina and hold it in place. Another circular portion is found at the bottom, or opening, of the condom, which slightly envelopes the labia. This form protection should not be used in conjunction with a male condom.
The diaphragm is the more commonly used barrier contraceptive. This is a latex-based material in the shape of a bowl. The “lip” of the bowl is actually a flexible ring that allows the device to conceal the opening of the cervix. In order to work properly, the ring side must be placed towards the cervix. Diaphragms are most often used in conjunction with spermicide. The last form of barrier protection we will talk about is the sponge. This device is similar to the diaphragm in nature, however it is made of polyurethane material which is coated with spermicide. The sponge must be wet before inserting into the vagina where it will rest against the opening of the cervix. The sponge must be inserted no more than about six hours before sex and must remain inside the vagina for an additional six hours afterward. The sponge should remain inside no more than thirty hours total from the time it was first inserted. Although it does present a slight risk of causing irritation to develop within the vagina, it is a reliable form of birth control.
The most permanent form of female contraception is a procedure called a tubal ligation. This method consists of surgery to prevent the fallopian tubes from transporting the eggs from the ovaries. This makes it impossible for sperm to come into contact with an egg. This procedure is only performed on women who have carefully examined their life and are positive that they do not and will not want children in the future. While a tubal ligation can usually be reversed, it is not guaranteed that the reversal will take, even with an experienced surgeon.